Maria Rosa: One Woman’s Journey to Becoming the First Female Engineer in CUIMC Facilities
On her journey to becoming an engineer, Maria Rosa would often say to herself, “I am going to be the first female engineer at Columbia.” As a single mother who immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic, she started her journey as a custodian at the medical center campus. After transferring to the Morningside campus, Maria was exposed to the work of the plumbers, electricians, mechanics and engineers. She was curious about their work and wanted to learn more.
One of her coworkers, Luis Guzman, noticed how much Maria was interested in engineering work and motivated her to take classes offered by the union and become licensed in one of these areas. Maria took his advice and took several technical classes with the union and became a licensed plumber. But she didn’t stop there, she wanted more.
Maria soon went back to school and became a licensed HVAC mechanic; she worked in this field in the Morningside campus for several years. Her coworker Luis continued to see more potential in her and asked her, “Why don’t you go for the position of engineer?”
“What? Are you crazy? I can’t do that. That is too much and remember I have two young daughters and that would mean I would have to go back school,” Maria said.
Luis didn’t budge and continued to motivate Maria to pursue engineering. Maria stepped up to the challenge and returned to school for an engineering license.
“I really did this for myself and my daughters. They looked up to me as they saw me going to school and studying and making progress in my life,” shares Maria.
The real challenge for Maria came after she became a licensed engineer. She applied for many jobs in many places but, unfortunately, was rejected many times. She even recalls some men in the field telling her, “This kind of work is not for you, you are not qualified.”
This made Maria sad and frustrated to the point of tears.
One day, Maria noticed a job posting for engineer with CUIMC Facilities Management. At first, she hesitated at the thought of applying due to the previous obstacles she faced in her job search. Once again her friend Luis urged her to apply and she finally did.
“I interviewed with Fred Arce, Roger Giusti, and Jim Thompsen for the position. They made me feel so at ease and comfortable during the interview. A few weeks later I got the call that I got the job. I was so happy,” recalls Maria.
Roger Giusti, director of Engineering Operations and Maria’s manager shared, “Maria’s journey has been inspirational. She is a trailblazer and her accomplishments will serve as a model to future female engineers for years to come. She never wavered in her pursuit to become a licensed refrigeration engineer, and since joining our team her work has been on par with that of her male counterparts. I have no doubt that she will continue to be successful and will meet any challenge that is presented to her.”
Maria is grateful for the chance CUIMC Facilities Management has given her. Maria’s daughters are now age 25 and 17, and her eldest is finishing a master’s degree at Columbia University.
“The journey to becoming an engineer was not easy. It took a lot of tears. Sometimes I would pray to God and remind him to remember all of the effort I had put into my career,” says Maria. “If you are in a similar position as me, my message to you is don’t give up, keep going and do what it takes.”